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En Plein Air with Maria Josenhans

It’s plein air season again! Many people are already preparing to hit the great outdoors for some creative inspiration. Others may ask, why paint outside? And where would I start?

For anyone new to plein air, the thought of braving the uncertainty of the outdoors can be daunting. Thankfully, local artist and plein air teacher Maria Josenhans has given us an inside peek on how she gets herself prepared to paint en plein air.

She lets us in on how plein air can drastically change your art and your viewpoint when painting back indoors, and shares tips on quick preparation and personal technique choices when painting with the elements.

Opus: What specific tools do you bring with you when painting outside?

Maria Josenhans: I am always ready to paint! So I always make sure I’ve got my palette, paint, and charcoal for doing a quick layout of my composition in my portable easel at all times. I mostly use half tubes of paint and just wait till my studio paint is down so I don’t have to take as much. My palette is made up of parchment paper so I can easily dispose of it and have quick access to a clean one. My easel itself is a little self-contained unit. It has a small place in the back to carry two 8″ × 10″ or two 8″ × 12″, but I’ve jimmy rigged it to hold more. Then of course are the weather dependent things like my umbrella, sunhat, and maybe boots or gloves if it gets colder. You really want to be as ready to go as possible.

O: How do you choose your location and subject?

MJ: From a practical point of view, I think, how much time do I have? How far is the location going to be from me? Do I feel like painting in the woods or am I in the mood to be more out in the open? Honestly, for the most part though, it’s whatever I see that really strikes me; it’s just talking to me. It’s got something going on, an energy that I’m just interested in. I find that if I force myself to paint something I am not really interested in, it will translate the same way in my paintings. A lot of it is like photography for me: I just go out and wait for something to catch my eye.

O: Do you have to get yourself into a specific mind frame to go out or is it more of a feeling you get?

MJ: I still work a lot like my late photography teacher taught me to. We would go into the woods and just sit with our subject. He taught me to really get a sense of knowing my subject. Having a rapport and a respect for what it is that you’re working with. So I do go out with a mind frame of really “looking.” Sometimes you’ll go out and you’ll say, “Oh, I don’t want to paint this. This was a waste of time.” But if you just sit down, you’ll find sitting right in front of you is what you really want to paint. It’s right there!

O: Does your personal style change when you paint outdoors?

MJ: With things changing really fast, you have to paint fast. So I try to make big bold strokes, big bold choices when painting under changing light. That’s really my biggest challenge: not getting lost in the little details and really getting the feel of it down. So that’s going to make a looser, more direct style. I like that – being pushed a little bit so that I don’t get stuck in something.

O: What’s an advantage you find painting en plein air gives you?

MJ: Mostly, it’s the sense of colour that I get when I’m outside painting. My colour choices are different and that’s just something that I’ve come to learn by doing it. I go out and find something that I want to do a painting of, and I’ll make a reference picture. Then I’ll come back and I’ll be like, “I would have never painted it that way if I only had the photograph.” There’s really just this freshness that happens because the light is changing all the time. Everything outside helps translate into your painting. So if there’s wind blowing I want to hear it too because it’s all part of plein air: getting all the senses working at the same time.

O: Do you prefer painting plein air? Or are there times when you would prefer your studio?

MJ: If I could, I would paint everything in plein air first. There is just no substitute to actually being outdoors. Good or bad weather, it’s going to be a different experience every single time. So plein air paintings usually have this energy you do not get from larger studio works. The lovely energy you’re getting from the wind, rain, or sun is going to come through. I’ll even use my plein air paintings as a reference in my studio works if it has a certain colour or mood that I want to convey as realistically as possible.

O: What would you say to someone interested in trying plein air for the first time?

MJ: Get a few basic essentials and make sure that you’re comfortable. Have the paper towels you need to clean up, your sunhat so you’re not baking, and paint small to start with. Try not to be to hard on yourself, just go out and do it! Be glad you went out and at least tried. I really think the rewards are well worth it. You’ll see what you have painted outside will be so different and it will help you see differently when working indoors. I think painting outside really changes things for an artist.

Visit www.mariajosenhans.com to learn more about Maria and her work.

And watch our video interview with Maria on our website at www.opusartsupplies.com/how/videos/artist-interview-plein-air.